Memories of Derby High School - 1920's
By Harold B. Yudkin, class of 1928
In 1924, my class graduated from the eight grade in the Irving School. My teachers were Miss Harding and Miss Levy, Miss Levy was not too much older than myself. Later, I met her time and again with her family, in restaurants, and always made a to-do by throwing my arms around her and saying loudly: "This was my 8th grade teacher." One day she got even with me by replying "How would you like to call me tante?" (Tante is Yiddish for aunt.) She introduced me to her niece, Selma Levy, now my wife.
In September 1924 we all came to the Derby High School. Then, it consisted of a brick building on the North and the former Cheeseman home on the South. In our freshman year we went to after noon sessions while they tore down the former Cheeseman home and replaced it with a brick building. They also built a gymnasium, cafeteria, and dressing rooms.
Our class of 1928 was more than twice the size of our Irving School class of 1924 principally from graduates of St. Mary's School.
Before the cafeteria, we brown-bagged our recess food, or there was a hand pushed cart or wagon on Minerva Street at recess, the cart was run by "Phil", a German who sold hotdogs on a toasted bun with sauerkraut and mustard for 10cents or baked bean cups in a pie crust for a nickle and coca-colas for a nickle. Phil also brought his cart to football games and on every Saturday night, when Derby was a shopping mecca, sold his wares on the southeast corner of Third and Elizabeth Streets. (Just before World War II it is reputed that Phil drew all his life savings out of a bank and embarked for Germany. It is reputed that he was robbed and thrown overboard on the journey and never returned to Germany.) In those days we had no radios and no television. We could attend movies at the Sterling Theatre for 15 cents or at the Derby Theatre for 10 cents. The Capitol Theater and the Tremont Theatre in Ansonia were possibilities but were so far away (2 miles) that we would have to pay two or three tokens for a quarter for a round trip by the Connecticut Company Belt Line Trolley Car. (Mill Louisa B. Baker, the loveable English Teacher once made arrangements to walk our class to and from the Tremont Theatre to see "A Tale of Two Cities" for a dime.)
Derby no longer had athletic contests with Ansonia High School because around 1920, after a football game at a field off North Main Street Ansonia, the trolley car carrying the Derby team was stoned and windows were broken. If I remember correctly, Derby lost its Thanksgiving Day Football Game with Shelton in my freshman, sophomore and junior Years. But in 1927, when I was manager of our Football Team, We beat Shelton 21-7. I was aged 14.
Who do I remember from our faculty? First of all Miss Louisa B. Baker. She was of Chesterfield Massachusetts and a graduate of Smith College. She taught me the value of reading, the art of writing prose and poetry, the way to speak. Under her guidance I won the New York Times oratorical contest with the topic "Abraham Lincoln saved the Constitution of the United States."
Then there was Miss Josephine Kennedy of a distinguished Derby family, who taught algebra and plane geometry for two years before she moved to teach, at an advanced salary, at Ansonia High School. She too was a graduate of Smith College. You couldn't fool around in her classes. But all of us got extraordinary high grades in subjects she taught, on our college entrance tests.
Miss Ryan, of Derby, another Smith College graduate, whose brother was a teacher at Ansonia High School, taught us history for two years before she, too, joined Miss Kennedy in transferring to Ansonia High School.
I cannot depart form this part of memory lane without remembering Daniel Heffernan, of Derby, our science, physics and chemistry teacher and baseball coach. He taught me the value of a college education, and helped me choose the three colleges to which I applied. Mr. Heffernan had a lovely wife who attended every baseball game he coached. Their son later coached the Seymour High School Football team.
Ed Strang was in my class. He peddled his New Haven Register Newspaper every day, while playing football, and while keeping up his Scouting activities.
Mike Brophy was the school janitor. We had large ventilators in each classroom. Al Berman who was a class or two ahead of us used to go down to Mr. Brophy's quarters and whisper funny words that carried to every room. So far as I know, he was never caught.
My four years in the Derby High School were wonderful years. I was too young to enjoy them as much as I should. My class graduated to face the depression of 1929 and World War II in 1941.
I was on the Senior Prom Committee. I suggested that we hire Rudy Vallee and his Yale Collegians because I knew his pianist. I was outvoted and we hired McEnelly's Singing Orchestra. I didn't go to the prom. I had been walking a pretty blonde underclasswoman home and asked her to be my date. She replied favorably. Two days before the event she told me she was going with Tommy Hyde, my classmate and a wizard at the drums. What a calamity!
The biggest failure of the faculty in 1924-28 was that it failed to teach me how to study. My only study in my four years was during study periods. Therefore my freshman year in college was almost impossible. Because my competitors all knew that education is best obtained upon the seat of one's pants through study, study, study.
The biggest success of the faculty in 1924-28 was that it introduced me to the people of Derby who came to me for advice during almost 50 years of Law practice and who bought my many hundred homes in the Yudkin development, in East Derby - more homes than were built by any other person in the whole history of Derby, Connecticut.